Battlepanda: "Take your medicine"


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

"Take your medicine"

I would have missed this article altogether if somebody didn't push it over at the new newsblog, because I'm not exactly a regular visiter of ESPN, but wow. It's a terrific piece on the Genarlaw Wilson case, which if you remember concerned a promising 17 year old who got ten years for recieving oral sex from a 15 year old due to a dumb-as-shit Georgia law.

The part that really sent chills down my spine was the bit with Barker, the prosecuter in the case. His "cry uncle or we'll be within our rights to break your arms" attitude has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with the kind of ugly, powertripping bastard he is:
"We didn't want him to get the 10 years," he says. "We understand there's an element out there scratching their heads, saying, 'How does a kid get 10 years under these facts?' "

In Barker's eyes, Wilson should have taken the same plea agreement as the others. Maintaining innocence in the face of the crushing wheels of justice is the ultimate act of vanity, he believes.

"I understand what he's saying," Barker says. "I think he's making a bad decision in the long run. Being branded a sex offender is not good; but at the same time, if it made the difference between spending 10 years as opposed to two? Is it worth sitting in prison for eight more years, and you're still gonna be a sex offender when you get out?"

Barker is quick to point out that he offered Wilson a plea after he'd been found guilty -- the first time he has ever done that. Of course, the plea was the same five years he'd offered before the trial -- not taking into account the rape acquittal. Barker thinks five years is fair for receiving oral sex from a schoolmate. None of the other defendants insisted on a jury trial. Wilson did. He rolled the dice, and he lost. The others, he says, "took their medicine."

While Bernstein works on every possible legal solution, the Douglas County District Attorney's Office has the power to get Wilson out of prison. If the prosecution wanted, this could all end tomorrow. The D.A.'s office says Bernstein hasn't asked. Bernstein says she has. Not that any legal he said/she said matters. Only the prosecutors' opinion does, and according to at least one legal expert, prosecutorial ego is more of a factor in this case than race. The folks in Douglas County are playing god with Genarlow Wilson's life.

"We can set aside his sentence," Barker says. "Legally, it's still possible for us to set aside his sentence and give him a new sentence to a lesser charge. But it's up to us. He has no control over it."

The position of Barker and the district attorney, McDade, who refused to comment, is that Wilson is guilty under the law and there is no room for mercy, though the facts seem to say they simply chose not to give it to Wilson. At the same time this trial was under way, a local high school teacher, a white female, was found guilty of having a sexual relationship with a student -- a true case of child molestation. The teacher received 90 days. Wilson received 3,650 days.

Now, if Wilson wants a shot at getting out, he must throw himself at the prosecutors' feet and ask for mercy, which he might or might not receive. Joseph Heller would love this. If Wilson would only admit to being a child molester, he could stop receiving the punishment of one. Maybe.

"Well," Barker says, "the one person who can change things at this point is Genarlow. The ball's in his court."
There is something in Barker's attitude that just turns my stomach.

I understand the rational for plea bargains. I agree that those who are contrite should be given a break. That is the proper place for plea bargains. However, it's simply sickening when the plea bargain is used as a tool for prosecutors to twist the accused's arm into pleading guilty.

The plea bargain is the carrot before the trial, tempting the accused with an easy way out? Why not just take your medicine and have done with it? Why risk a good chunk of your remaining natural life?

The plea bargain becomes the stick after the trial, beating off any suggestion that a grotesquely oversevere sentence is unjust. Afterall, it's the accused's fault for not taking that perfectly reasonable plea bargain.

This reminds me of the Julie Amero case, which Majikthise is all over. This woman is potentially looking at a 40 year sentence. But if she had copped a plea, she would not have had to serve any time in prison at all. Is the prosecution seriously making the case that what Amero did was so egregious that she could go to jail for the rest of her life for it but at the same time so trivial that she wouldn't have had to go to jail at all if she had only said "sorry"?

In an insidious, backdoor way, our right to a fair trial by our peers is being eroded by what is in effect prosecutorial blackmail. There is a point of commonality between the Amero and Wilson case -- both would have had to carry the sex offender label if they accepted the plea, which goes a long way towards explaining why they gambled on a trial (if they did not, we would not have heard about their cases at all).

What of other cases that carries no such stigma?

When faced between a potential life sentence versus just a few months in jail or even just probation, how many of us would protest our innocence, and how many would quietly take our medicine?